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Amuse Bouche: America’s most important beers

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By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST

Immigrants wasted no time putting their brewing skills to use in America as early as the mid 1800s. Most important, most influential—however you choose to label them—they’ve had a profound impact on the modern fermented world.

You can find dozens of articles with opinions surrounding which brews make the list. Some I agree with and some I do not, but here’s my list. A little giveaway—not every beer company on this list has to do with what’s inside the bottle.

Yuengling. It’s the oldest brewery in America. Imagine any product in which the original in an entire nation survives a civil war, a 13 year period where your product was illegal, ownership still remains in the family and continues going strong today as a quality product. Now that is a testament to perseverance. Every time I’ve traveled to the east coast, a Yuengling is my first brew; not a craft IPA.

Schlitz. Yeah, why is this beer on my list when its nickname is a word that I don’t even feel comfortable printing in this article? Because it was the first to use brown glass, thereby shielding the delicate hops from harmful ultra-violet rays. Why any beer is still bottled in green or clear is beyond me.

Krueger’s. This was the first beer to be canned. Cans had been introduced to other food products in the late 1900s, while canning beer wasn’t successful until the American Can Company partnered with Krueger’s. That canned beer received a 92 percent approval rating in its first test market in Richmond, VA.

Iron City Premium Lager. Sure, Krueger’s canned first, but you needed a tool to open it. What we call a church key, simply because they look like old keys for wooden church doors, was required to access the goods inside Krueger’s early cans, but Iron City perfected the pull tab. This still made for additional waste in the form of a metal tab that needed to be discarded, but it brought us one step closer to the modern pull tab.  

National Bohemian. Let the festivities begin! National Bohemian was the first to package their cans or bottles in six-packs. This was the original “mass” packaging and it forever changed the way we purchased, not only beer, but virtually all commercial beverages. 

Miller Lite. Miller brewed the first light beer. Though it took criticism for its inevitable lack of flavor due to its use of corn syrup as a fermentable ingredient (not to be confused with high fructose corn syrup) all of the competing brewing giants quickly followed suit.

Anchor Steam. Over a century before giddy American craft brewers were so obsessed with being original and thought provoking that they made Lucky Charms IPA, Anchor Steam created steam beer, or California common. A beer that was both ridiculously simple, yet presented a nuance to flavor previously undiscovered; brewing a top fermenting ale with bottom fermenting lager yeast.  

Kingsbury Cream Ale. In the same spirit as Anchor Steam, Kingsbury Cream Ale is the other style of beer that, until this second renaissance, is indigenous to America. This light, crisp style with a soft palate was the invention of the Kingsbury brewery in 1933. 

Honorable mentions:

Coors. Coors was not the first to use aluminum for its cans, which was much lighter and more affordable, but it was the first can that was recyclable.

Pabst Blue Ribbon. While it does share something in common with Belgium’s Stella Artois—it has enjoyed an unrivaled resurgence after almost closing their doors for good—I just can’t credit influence or historical importance to a beer that was suddenly “discovered” by a pack of Portland hipsters, thereby creating a cult following and subsequent price increase.

Next issue I’ll share my list of more contemporary fermented nectars that I believe helped shape what and how we drink beer today.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

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